We are all aware of the importance of developing a solid content strategy and the exponential growth that this can deliver when you get it right. But there are also a whole host of misconceptions in the content marketing world.
You have probably been given advice at some point in the past that says that the longer a piece of content is, the better it will perform. Or that every piece of content on your site should be at least 2,000 words.
And the reality is that these aren't true, and they are also not untrue — if that makes sense?
Both short-form and long-form content have their place in a successful content marketing strategy, and both can be very powerful tools in your marketing toolbox.
You just need to choose the right form of content in the right context.
There is no generic answer to the question of, "how long should a blog post be?"; neither should you be setting minimum word counts as a blanket rule across every piece that you produce.
You need to learn how to choose the right type of content to serve a specific purpose, and in this guide, we are going to explain what you need to know. Specifically, we will cover:
Short-Form vs. Long-Form Content
To help you determine your content length, you first need to know a clear definition of what constitutes short-form content and what is considered as long-form.
You are probably used to creating different content formats — from video and infographics to social content, interactive content, and others — but just as you have likely established a process for determining the right one to use, you also need to figure out how long your content should be.
What is Short-Form Content?
Short-form content is typically considered to be content of fewer than 1,200 words in length, although some marketers draw the cut off-point at 1,000 words.
It is typically quick and easy to digest content that covers a specific area of a topic, rather than going too in-depth or detailed.
Common formats of short-form content include:
- Short blog posts
- News articles
- Social content
This type of content isn't too heavy on your audience, won't take long to consume, and is typically relatively quick and easy to create. The goal of short-form content is also often to get a single message across quickly and effectively. It is all about sharing one idea and keeping things simple.
A great example is this social post that gets a single message across in a simple way:
In fact, social content is a really effective short-form content format. It is a mistake not to think of short-form content as anything other than written content, but it happens relatively frequently.
Think outside the box and be prepared to create the content that engages your audience, whatever the length of this content is.
What Is Long-Form Content?
Long-form content is typically more than 1,200 (sometimes 1,000) words.
It is content that dives deep into a topic and covers it in great depth and covers formats including:
- Detailed and lengthy blog posts
- Evergreen pages
- Guides and tutorials
- Whitepapers and eBooks
- Webinars and virtual events
- Pillar pages
This is the type of content that truly engages audiences due to the depth of the topic that it covers. It is not intended as quick-to-consume content, rather content aimed at educating and informing those looking to answer a specific question or learn more about a topic.
A great example of long-form content in practice is Pipedrive's Ultimate Guide to Sales Strategy:
This almost 7,000-word guide does a great job of showing what is possible and how long-form content can look.
But let's not forget to mention that this type of content is resource-intensive. It is usually not quick to produce and often requires a significant investment of time and resources. However, the returns and results from using long-form content strategically can be huge.
For example, we can see that this guide ranks in strong positions on the SERPs for a variety of relevant terms:
These might not be keywords with crazy high search volumes, but they are targeted and perfectly aligned with Pipedrive's target audience. You can do similar domain research here.
Another great example is NerdWallet's guide to tax brackets and federal income tax rates:
This piece comes in at the bottom end of long-form content (just over 2,000 words), but does a great job of showcasing the importance of getting the length right and not focusing solely on word count alone.
And when we look at the page's stats, we can see that it delivers over 265K organic hits every month.
Long-form content (with a specific emphasis on evergreen content here) often forms the backbone of your SEO strategy. When you stack multiple successful pieces on top of one another, the results can be hugely impactful and deliver a consistent flow of traffic and leads.
Does the Length of Your Content Matter?
This is a question that is commonly asked amongst SEOs and content marketers, and one that deserves addressing here due to its intrinsic relevance to long-form vs. short-form content.
The simple answer to this is that yes, the length of your content does matter. But that shouldn't be interpreted as meaning that longer content is better, because that is taking the answer out of context.
The length of content needs to be right to serve the purpose you are trying to serve and meet the objectives that you have set. And this is why it is so important to understand how to choose the right format of content for different purposes, and to take time to understand the search intent of other similar content that performs.
An example, many ranking factor studies have demonstrated a correlation between the length of content and higher search rankings. In fact, this Backlinko study clearly states that "When it comes to acquiring backlinks, long-form content significantly outperforms short blog posts and articles."
And we are behind this 100%.
In most cases, longer content performs better for organic search than short-form content. But that is not just because of the word count.
It is because many search queries require detailed results and content to cover a topic in great depth. This, in turn, demands long-form content to sufficiently offer the best results on the web. You must consider the length of your content in context, even when the purpose is to rank on the SERPs.
Take an eCommerce category page as an example; it is not uncommon to find that the top results have very little content in place aside from a short description.
Target's category page for bikes includes just 211 words of descriptive content at the bottom of the page, below the product grid.
But that doesn't stop the page ranking for 2.4K different keywords and driving an estimated 391K organic hits per month, including the #1 ranking for 'bike.'
You need to create content that best answers the search query, and that is not always long-form content.
And let's also not ignore the fact that the purpose of content isn't always going to be to rank organically. Yes, content is one of the main drivers of organic search growth, but it would be naive to assume that content isn't created for other reasons, too, because it is. You only need to look at how many businesses are driving phenomenal growth across their social platforms with short-form content.
Don't focus on creating longer content; instead, focus your efforts on creating content that is the right length and format to meet your goals (and matches the search intent of search engine users).
The Pros and Cons of Short-Form Content
Short-form content has a place in every content strategy, but many of the benefits of creating simple, straight-to-the-point content are often overlooked.
The pros are:
- It is an effective way to quickly and effectively get across a single point without requiring a lengthy time commitment from an audience. It helps communicate to those with a short attention span, hence why it is so effective on social media.
- It is quicker and less resource-intensive to produce in comparison to long-form content.
- It is easier to read and consume and, in many cases, is easier to make mobile-friendly.
The cons that are often associated with short-form include:
- It is harder to cover a topic in-depth with short-form content.
- This type of content can easily become very formulaic if you are not careful, something that, in itself, can put off your audience.
- Short-form content often isn't evergreen, meaning that interest and performance decrease over time.
The Benefits of Long-Form Content
Just like short-form content has a place in every marketer's toolbox, so does long-form.
In fact, it is quickly becoming commonplace for marketers to jump straight to the creation of this type of content to drive growth.
The benefits are:
- It typically ranks better on the search engines, assuming that the search query demands detailed results.
- This type of content also typically ranks for a higher number of keywords due to covering more depth of a topic.
- Long-form typically earns more backlinks than short-form content, further increasing the page's performance and rankings. The SEMrush titled "The State of Content Marketing Report 2019" revealed that pages that are 3,000+ words in length earn 3.5x as many links than those of an average length of between 901 and 1200 words.
- The conversion rate of long-form content is typically higher than that of short-form content, largely due to the attention given by a reader and the intent of their visit. A study from Conversion Rate Experts and Crazy Egg saw that the conversion rate of a page increased by more than 30% when increasing landing page length by 20x.
- Long-form content helps to position you as thought-leaders in your space and a voice in your industry. It is only natural that your audience sees you as a market leader if you regularly produce content that educates, informs, and helps them make decisions.
Always remember that the benefit of different types of content usually goes way beyond SEO.
On the other hand, the cons of long-form content are:
- It takes far more time and resources to produce long-form content, which usually means a larger financial investment is needed. This can mean that the returns from this type of content need to be significantly greater than short-form content. However, when used as part of a solid strategy that justifies why long-form content is right and should be invested in, these returns will typically come.
- It can often be difficult to display long-form content nicely on mobile devices, which adds creative complexity — while also keeping in mind the fact that the attention spans of on-the-go consumers are changing.
Choosing Short-Form vs. Long-Form Content
The reality is that any successful content marketing strategy should balance both short-form and long-form to meet the needs and wants of their audience.
By taking the time to understand your audience and how they engage with your product or service, you will be in a position to determine the right content to create, but in terms of a proven process for choosing to produce either short-form or long-form content, you need to be considering the following:
You need to know what your goals are and choose the most effective way to meet them.
And setting goals (for each specific piece of content that you create, not just your overall strategy) is the first step to choosing what format and length to produce.
Smart marketers set their goals first and work backward to figure out the best way to meet them.
As an example, if your goal is to raise awareness around a new product launch, you might decide that the most effective way to do this is a relatively short but to-the-point email to your subscribers, combined with a number of posts across your social channels.
In this instance, short-form content is the most effective choice.
On the other hand, if your goal is to rank on Google for a highly competitive search term and drive associated traffic and conversions as a result of this, there is every likelihood that you will need to turn to long-form content.
If you don't know where you're going, how can you figure out how to get there?
You need to understand the intent that your content needs to meet.
And this is often as simple as taking the time to research the other content that's out there and working for your competitors across the same topic.
Our guide on how to identify intent in search is a great starting point for this and can help you to understand the concept in a little more detail, but you need to determine what it is that your audience wants to get out of the piece of content that you are going to create.
When the intent of your audience is to learn or educate themselves, you will usually need to create long-form content. But if they are looking to be entertained or keep up to date with your latest news, short-form might be a better option.
Understanding the intent before you start creating content is an important step, but one that is often overlooked.
If you are creating content with the purpose of ranking on the SERPs and if you are looking to drive traction on social media, you need to know what you are competing against and what is working for your competitors.
To benchmark the requirements for content with the purpose of performing on the SERPs, you can use the SEMrush content template to help you analyze the pages that currently rank and see a target word count. Think of this as a benchmark, but keep in mind your intent and goals.
To analyze the type of social content that is performing for your competitors, you can use the SEMrush social media tracker and compare how your content compares, as well as get insights into which posts perform the best (and at what times).
You can change between comparing audience, activity, or engagement with the titles at the top left (1) or choose to sort these insights by the total number, change in this number, or growth % at the top right (2).
You know your audience better than anyone else, and it is important to use these insights to shape your content strategy, and, of course, determine whether they are the most receptive to long-form or short-form content.
Take the time to analyze your previous efforts (depending on the channel and format) against metrics such as:
You need to know the type of content that works best for your audience and create more of it, understanding that different pieces will serve different purposes.
You need to be answering questions like:
- What type of content drives the best level of conversions for us?
- What type of content drives the best engagement on social media?
- What type of content has the lowest bounce rate and highest session duration?
The more that you can use insights from your own audience, the better armed you are to make decisions on your strategy's next steps.
Your Conversion Path
How many touchpoints does your average customer make with your business before they convert? This is another consideration point that should feed into your decision on long-form or short-form content.
As an example, an eCommerce retailer in the fashion sector may be in the perfect position to drive sales to a new product line through short-form content across social media. The conversion window is short, and the consideration process is simple, often due to a low average order value.
On the other hand, a B2B software platform will likely find a much more complex conversion path where an audience must be nurtured through educational and informative content over time, largely due to much higher investments and average order values.
In this instance, both short-form and long-form content will need to be utilized together as part of a wider content strategy to drive awareness, educate and inform and, ultimately, drive that conversion.
Additional reading: [Study] How to Build an Effective Content Marketing Funnel
The #1 Golden Rule of Content Creation
What works for one business isn't what works for another.
While it is important for you to consider and analyze what your competitors are doing, both in terms of the formats they are using and the length of the content that they are creating, you need to figure out what works for you. Once you determine this, you can double-down on what is driving success and scale up your efforts.
The likelihood is that your strategy will call for a mix of both short-form and long-form content across multiple formats, and ongoing analysis and measurement of your efforts will help you to determine the areas that are working and driving success.
You must also remember that content creation should be an ongoing process of optimization. The beauty of digital content is that you are able to publish, analyze, and optimize on a continual basis to improve performance.
Things to Remember
- If you create a piece and it doesn't perform, analyze the data you have available, figure out why that was, make changes, and promote that piece in its updated form.
- Use the insights at hand through your data and third-party tools to inform your strategy and acknowledge that there is no set length that your content should be.
- Focus your efforts on creating content that is the right length to serve the purpose that you need and want to serve — this is the best place to start.